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04 February 2015

Ian Caldwell: The Fifth Gospel

Religious conspiracy unveiled
This is a well written suspense novel about a murder and conspiracy at the Vatican. If you are not very religious (as I am) you may find some of it a bit difficult to understand and appreciate.

The story is based around the murder of Ugolino Nogara in the grounds of the Vatican summer palace. Ugaro would have shortly been opening a ground-breaking exhibition at the Vatican Museum including an exhibit that clarifies the history of the Turin Shroud. He planned to use the content of the little-known Diatessaron - the "Fifth Gospel" that tries to bring together the divergent content of the four Gospels that describe the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It would also impact on a possible reconciliation between the Roman Catholic church and the various Orthodox Christian churches.

The main characters are brothers, Alex and Simon Andreou. Alex is a Greek Catholic priest who lives inside the Vatican as a single parent with his five-year-old son (surprisingly Greek Catholics can marry before they enter the priesthood). Simon has moved into the main Catholic church and is a priest in the Vatican Secretariat, who seems destined for higher office. Recently in secret he has been courting various Orthodox Bishops. Alex had been teaching Nogara his interpretation of the  4 Gospels and helping with his search in the Diatessaron for clues to the real truth about the history of the Shroud.

When Alex answers a call from Simon to meet him at the Castel Gandolfo, the Pope's summer palace just outside Rome, he finds Nogara dead with a bullet wound in a car with a shattered window. Simon is standing nearby. As the murder occurred on Vatican land the Church decides to investigate and pass judgement on the incident themselves - a very different procedure to normal criminal court procedures.

While this is an interesting suspense tale it is the Vatican setting that makes it fascinating and very different. Caldwell gives us his inside view of the Vatican. It told me a lot about a world of ambitious celibate men whose lives are based around a fundamental belief in the Gospels that some of Christ's Apostles wrote nearly two thousand years ago. Only the most ambitious and dedicated will get to the top and some will stop at nothing to achieve their objectives. The inconclusive tale of the reconciliation of Alex with his estranged wife and his conflicts between his love for religion and the Gospels and his love for his wife left a lot of things unsaid.

The book certainly opened my eyes to another world. I am not sure if Caldwell wrote it to show an understanding of religious life or as a criticism of religious life. You need to read the book yourself to come to your own conclusions. As an agnostic brought up as an Anglican it supports my views on the hypocritical nature of all extreme commitments to religion.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for a copy of this book for review.

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